Are teachers paid too little or too much?
That question is getting yet another tour in the public arena, but with a slightly new twist.
The controversy started last month with a report from Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters of the Manhattan Institute, a think tank based in New York City. The authors compiled hourly wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare the pay of public school teachers with those of other professionals. They found the teachers on average earned more than economists, registered nurses, architects, and the like.
According to the authors, the average teacher got paid 36 percent more than the average nonsales white-collar worker and 11 percent more than the average “professional speciality and technical worker”—the classification in which the government puts teachers.
A new study pits public school teachers’ mean hourly earnings in 2005 against those of other professional specialty and technical workers.
*Click image to see the full chart.
SOURCE: Manhattan Institute, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Teachers’ union officials and educators immediately questioned the researchers’ approach, noting that hours worked by teachers are often hidden at home, and arguing that annual pay is a better comparison than hourly wages. In the main, they stuck to their view, often put forward, that teachers are inadequately paid both for the work they do and in comparison with other professionals.
The arguments replayed similar ones from a couple of years ago between the economists Michael Podgursky of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington. Mr. Mishel maintained in a 2004 book that average teacher pay was too low comparatively, while Mr. Podgursky in a 2005 paper contended the opposite.
In 2003, the magazine Education Next stirred the same pot by devoting an issue to the question of whether the “widely held” assumption of inadequate pay for teachers was warranted.
This time around, though, some opinion writers picked up on a theme that earlier had been confined to scholars and experts. Rather than ask the too-much or too-little question in general, they refined the query.
Journalists in Cleveland, Detroit, and Denver focused on the worth of teachers who do a better job in the classroom. Those are the teachers who are underpaid, the writers suggested, while other teachers’ paychecks may be inflated.
Opined an editorial in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, for instance: “A district truly committed to progress would push for [contract] clauses that reward the most outstanding educators rather than just the most long-standing ones.”
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A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 2007 edition of Education Week